October 4th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

My View: The future of credentials

Courtesy Brad SwonetzBy Salman Khan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Salman Khan is the founder of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit educational organization whose mission is “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” Khan is the author of “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined” (Twelve).

(CNN) – When people talk about education, they are usually mixing together several ideas. The first is the idea of learning. The second is the idea of socialization. The third is the idea of credentialing - giving a piece of paper to someone that proves to the world that he or she knows what they know. These three different aspects of education are muddled together because today they are all performed by the same institutions - you go to college to learn, have a life experience and get a degree.

Let’s try a simple thought experiment: What if we were to separate the teaching and credentialing roles of universities? What would happen if regardless of where (or whether) you went to college, you could take rigorous, internationally recognized assessments that measured your understanding and proficiency in various fields anything from art history to software engineering.

With our hypothetical assessments - microcredentials, if you will - people could prove that they know just as much in a specific domain as those with an exclusive diploma. Even more, they wouldn’t have had to go into debt and attend university to prove it. They could prepare through textbooks, the Khan Academy or life experience. Because even name-brand diplomas give employers limited information, it would be a way for elite college graduates to differentiate themselves from their peers, to show that they have retained deep, useful knowledge.

In short, it would make the credential that most students and parents need cheaper (since it is an assessment that is not predicated on seat time in lecture halls) and more powerful - it would tell employers who is best ready to contribute at their organizations based on metrics that they find important. College would become optional even for students pursuing prestigious and selective career tracks.

Think about the implications. The academic purity of a university experience would no longer be strangely mixed with student career ambitions - no more obsession with getting an “A” in a philosophy class to get a job interview at a consulting firm. Even better, pedigree and selectivity of school would no longer be artificial barriers to entering competitive fields.
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The power of parents in a public school
Parent Vicki Sando reads to a group of students on the P.S. 41 Green Roof.
October 4th, 2012
04:16 AM ET

The power of parents in a public school

By Rose Arce, CNN

Editor’s note: Rose Arce is a senior producer in CNN’s New York Bureau who is also a regular contributor to Mamiverse.

(CNN) - I walked into Room 308 this year and made a beeline to see Luna’s contribution to the Art Wall, a rosy-cheeked self-portrait with an essay on her personal goal: learning to say hello to strangers. Her teacher has no such problem.

“Hello, everyone!” Clare O’Connell said brightly before telling parents about the hurdles in the second-grade curriculum.

She had me at “hello.”

My daughter’s teacher has the bandwidth to worry about her social development and teach beyond the test? And that’s not all the good news at school this year. Looming behind “Ms. Clare,” like the screen at an Apple product launch, was a gleaming new smart board, a silver-toned Mac and a camera that can shoot and project documents. There was also a calendar listing all the days the children of Room 308 will have classes in art, dance, chess, science (twice a week!), music and gym and a lunch program that provides fresh vegetables and fruits from recipes suggested by famous chefs.

My second-grader has that elusive part of the American dream: a good local public school. It’s not sponsored by IBM. It doesn’t live off a Gates Foundation grant. It’s not a charter or a magnet or a choice school with a crazy admissions process or breathtaking lottery. It isn’t part of a social experiment devised by the U.S. Department of Education and “seeded,” as government people love to say, with public money. It doesn’t qualify for Title I or any other numerical or alphabetical federal program with a pot of cash that resulted from a court decision or congressional act. The parents made it happen.

Our daughter was only 3 the first time we stepped into P.S. 41. There was a Class A auditorium, two playgrounds with artists’ murals, a fully stocked library, morning tutoring and afternoon chess, classrooms devoted to arts and sciences – all organized or paid for by parents. One of the parents, Vicki Sando, had launched a project to transform the roof into a huge science garden.

So far the efforts at environmental education were some big planters in the middle yard. Mysteriously, Principal Kelly Shannon talked about the rooftop garden as a sure thing. “The thing that makes this a great school is that the parents are so involved,” she said.

But it soon became clear that the conversation was going to be less about why you chose this school than whether to opt out. Ominous leaflets rallied parents to storm City Hall over rising class sizes. A woman spoke passionately about the wait lists that would send children to neighboring schools to avoid overcrowding. Grim scenarios were painted of staff layoffs, overworked teachers and scant supplies.
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Filed under: Elementary school • Parents • Practice